"Should I be afraid of life? No, life should be afraid of me!"
Did you have, or do you have, cancer?
Sadly, yes, I have cancer.
If yes can you tell me a little bit about the cancer you had or have?
December 13th 2017. The day I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I will never forget that
day for as long as I live. I was told that I had oestrogen and HERT2 positive breast
cancer at grade three. After my sentinel node biopsy, we was told that I was stage one.
Since then, I’ve completed six out seven cycles of chemotherapy. Three were FEC and
four were a mix of Docetaxel and the targeted therapy drugs, Trastuzumab and
After my last cycle, I’ll be having a bilateral mastectomy with immediate
reconstruction with expandable implants in August 2018.
For a year after chemotherapy, I’ll be receiving Herceptin injections and placed on some
unknown pills for an unknown amount of time.
How did you feel, and what was your reaction, when you were first told you had cancer?
I felt nothing when the surgeon told me. Absolutely nothing. Everyone was staring at me. First thing I said was ‘what are we gunna do about it then?’
Considering the pain that I was already in, a cancer diagnosis paled in comparison. Three weeks before my diagnosis, my dearest ma passed away from metastatic, triple negative breast cancer. The day I was diagnosed was a week after her funeral, and I actually found out about the appointment via text while sat at her wake. You couldn’t make it up, really. The daughter getting diagnosed with cancer too soon after her mother dying; sounds like its straight out a soap! You can see why I felt nothing when they told me, right? I’d just become an orphan and lost the most important person in my life.
I think I was in shock. Not that I had cancer, but that we were all back in the cancer bubble again. I knew something wasn’t right with my breast, I was very aware of the signs of BC from learning how to complete self-examinations after my ma was initially diagnosed in 2012. Our recent history with my ma’s diagnosis meant that I knew what questions to ask and that when they said ‘we’re not sure yet’, they weren’t lying.
After the diagnosis appointment, I realised that my family weren’t just back in the cancer bubble but having to suffer again with having a family member with cancer. I knew that pain all too well. I realised that I’d have to tell my friends, the same people who had just stood by me as I watched my ma slowly die. When I did start feeling, it was for other people. That was until I called my best friend. She sobbed, I’d never heard her cry like that before- it broke my heart, it still does.
Do you feel different now to the person you were before being diagnosed, and in what way?
The whole losing your ‘old self’ before cancer and that only another person with cancer would get it, but it’s true. You do become a completely different person and only another cancer patient understands how and why.
I feel like a whole new person since being diagnosed with cancer. I don’t know whether it is having cancer, the grief of losing my ma or all of it, but it is like an old Emma died and a new, better one has replaced her. I knew that I wouldn’t be the same person after ma died. I let the old me die, she’d been dying for a long time so I told her that it was okay to go and that I was ready for her to go. The old me was so exhausted and had been attacked so harshly by life, she needed to go. Then cancer hit again and whoever I was going to become, was going to be affected by that too.
My whole outlook on life and the way I see myself is different. The old filters that held me back have gone. I am more assertive and making decisions based on my needs more than every before.
How do you handle the possibility of death?
The doctors were all very sure that they could shrink and get rid of my cancer. Even with that knowledge I couldn’t help but think ‘what if’. I wrote about it on my blog. When you find out you have cancer, death is always finds its way into your mind even if the doctors seem confident that you won’t. Let’s face it, cancer is parasite that wants to destroy its host. The thought of dying before the age of 30 terrified me. I’m 25 and haven’t done much with my life. Before cancer, I just worked and had the odd night out with my friends. When I found out that I was responding and it hit me that I would be living, it gave me the drive to live a fulfilling life so that if I had recurrence or was diagnosed with another cancer, I could say to myself that I made the most of my time and loved every minute of it. And if I have lots of time left, I’ll have a lot of stories to tell and keep on making,
Death is one of the only certainties we have in life. I could die the day after being told I’m cancer free. I could have be diagnosed with a new cancer and be given a terminal diagnosis.
The best way at dealing with possibility of death in my opinion is to live your best life.
Do you think sharing your story affects your own journey with cancer?
Definitely! When I started writing my blog, its main purpose was to educate and empower people I knew about cancer honestly. However, as it began writing it, I found it more and more cathartic. It gave me an outlet for all the feelings, fears, anxieties and life lessons. Sometimes it even helped me to figure it all out; what the emotions are, why I’m feeling a certain way, why I’m thinking certain things, what the life lesson actually are. Writing my past is having a huge impact on my present and influence on future because it’s helping me to figure out everything that is going on and what I want when cancer isn’t necessarily part of my everyday life.
I’ve always found a lot of power in sharing your story, especially that of struggle. I’ve been followed around by anxiety, depression and OCD for years. Those demons told me that I couldn’t speak to anyone about them because they’d never understand and they’d think I was mad. When I realised that was false, I realised too that everytime I spoke about those demons I gained some power back from them. I was reminded that I might have mental health struggles, but I am not depression, anxiety and OCD. It’s the same with having cancer. Sharing my cancer story gives me power and control, which at first it seemed that caner had stolen. It reminds me that cancer is only one piece of the puzzle that is me.
If you could offer one piece of wisdom to the you before cancer what would it be?
Be kinder to yourself. You’re so good at listening to other people’s problems and doing everything in your power to help them, but you’re really shit when it comes to yourself. Your ma always wanted you to be fairer to yourself. Life is too short and troubling enough, to hate yourself.
How are you living your life differently since being diagnosed with cancer?
I’m living as if I’m a different person. When it hit me that after cancer I’d have to live, I realised just how little I’d done with my life and that I didn’t want the same life as before. I was trapped in a cycle of work, eat, sleep, repeat. Now I want to live a fulfilling life and I’m already starting to. When the chemo side effects for the cycle wear off, I spend time doing things with the people that I love. I’m making a bucket list to make sure that I make brilliant memories, live my best life and do not fall back into the boring cycle I mentioned above.
I’m practicing self-love and self-care so I can be my best self, and am learning about who I want to be and who I am. Some of the old filters have gone, not that I’ve become a dick but I am more assertive and unafraid to say how I feel or what I want/ need. Even though I’ve always been unapologetically myself, I’m now figuring out who that is on a deeper level as an independent adult.
I prefer the person I am now and person I am becoming to the person I was before cancer and my ma’s death.
What three things would you tell a person who just yesterday found out they have cancer?
The first thing is to make your own choices. Doctors and other medical professionals are going to be telling you a lot of things and will seem like they have all the power, but you still have a voice. Tell them what you think about and how you feel about the decisions being made. When it comes to the non-medical decisions, take the control too. People will try to make you do things in a certain way which they believe is how you should deal with diagnosis and how to live your post-diagnosis life. Truth is that there is no model for how and who to tell, whether you should cold-cap, what to do in between each chemo and what to eat.
Piece of advice number two would be to make the most of the good days. One certainty of cancer is that there will be bad days, but there will also be good ones. You will feel like shit but you also laugh. My bad days have been hellish; I found myself in a darkness that I didn’t know existed. I struggle everyday, but I try to not let it stop me from enjoying the days when I feel better physically and my mood lifts even if it’s only a wee bit for a wee while. To me, those horrors make the good days even better and makes me want to live them fully. The memories of them become reminders to have hope and persevere when I feel like shit again.
The last bit of advice is to not be afraid of change. Cancer changes things, that’s okay. In life we’re told that we must grow with the years but after diagnosis and treatment, people expect you to go completely back to how you was before. They expect your life will be exactly as it was before. It’s more than expect, it’s more like command. However, you aren’t the same person and your life isn’t the same. That’s okay. We can and should be able to grow too, use the last however long to develop. You are a new person with a new normal. Embrace them both! You might not have it all together yet but you will eventually so just enjoy the adventure of figuring it all out and learn from the mistakes you’ll make along the way.
List five things you are most grateful for.
The time and relationship I had with my ma.
My family and friends.
My dog, Prudie (she is my family and friend but she’s so special she gets her own number)
What do you do that makes you the happiest?
Being with the people I love and care about the most. They empower me and strengthen me. I love them so much and love makes me happy. Not just feeling their love but being able to show them love back.
How would you define happiness?
That’s difficult! Happiness is different to us all. For me, it is the feeling or state of being where we are content with life. It doesn’t have to be huge smiles and roars of laughter.
What does spirituality mean to you?
To me, spirituality is our relationship with the universe and one of the forces that determines how we live our lives. Spirituality is part of out belief system. It influences our values, morals and ideas about our place in the world. It includes our ideas about and relationship with a higher power or being that controls/ plays a role in what happens in the universe.
Do you believe in a Higher Power? If so what is a Higher Power for you?
I believe there is something beyond us that has a role to play in the universe and all that happens in it. It encompasses all of us- it’s not a particular gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. because it represents us in our best form and loves us unconditionally. I don’t know if I’d call it God in the organised religion sense of the word.
I think that my relationship with Christianity and God has influenced by beliefs about higher power. Being taught that God loves people is why I believe that a higher power loves us unconditionally and is the best vision of life because it wants us to be our best. Other ideas about the world we live in have been influential too. If you remove the man-made constructs and labels, we’re all just human, animal, etc. Thus, a higher power wouldn’t be able to be tick boxed in that way because it represents all of us and didn’t create those titles.
Many people ask why would a higher power allow negative things to happen if they love us. Negativity is part of life and always has been, it’s what happens when you have emotional intelligence, conscience and the critical thinking skills. The thing with negativity is that a lot falls on how we deal with it. Believing that there is a higher power that loves me and is rooting for me, gives me a drive to overcome negativity and grow with it, because that is why a higher power would let me face it! To help me find my best me.
In A-Level Religious Studies, we learnt about the ‘Design Argument’ which is used to support the existence of God. In its most basic form, it argues that our world is so complex it must have been designed or created by someone who it’s supporters claim is God. Our universe is incredibly intricate so it does make sense to me that there is more and higher than us.
What inspires you?
Love, kindness and living my best life.
Do you love yourself? If your answer is no, why not?
I’m on the way to loving myself but as with everything that worth having, it’s a journey that takes time. I appreciate myself and have love for myself more than ever before since being diagnosed. All my life I’ve had self-esteem and confidence issues so it’s been quite a long way to go. I’ve always been my own worse enemy and harshest critic.
I’ve come to realise just how amazing our bodies really are. Everyday they do weird yet wonderful things to keep us alive and kicking. Even though parts of my body went wrong and I got cancer, my body is withstanding the horrors of chemotherapy and letting it do its job to save me. It’s going through so much and I am so grateful for everything it is doing to destroy the cancer and keep me going.
Having cancer and watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, has underpinned my newfound appreciation and love for myself. Cancer has not only showed me how incredible our bodies are, but that I am a fucking strong force of nature and no one should underestimate me. Should I be afraid of life? No, life should be afraid of me! I started watching Drag Race just before beginning chemotherapy and was completely blown away and inspired by so many of the Drag Queens. Seeing their artistry, sass, work ethic and confidence, showed me the kind of person I wanted to be.
Even though I wouldn’t go as far as say I love myself yet, I am allowing myself to be kinder to myself. I am beginning to allow me to complement myself and recognise my positive traits. For example I have no shame or misgivings in verbalising that I am a formidable woman that kicks arse and that it is one of my strengths, whereas before I would just mention it at the most. It’s all part of my desire to live a fulfilling life.
Have you ever told yourself you love you? If so how did it feel?
I’m not sure if I have but it is something that I want to do. I’ve said that I love certain parts of me (like characteristics) and it felt empowering to say it.
List three nice things you do for yourself.
Treat myself (make-up, a book, a massage, etc.).
Rest/ allow myself to be calm and relax.
Make time for the things that I want to do.
Who inspires you most in the world?
I know that sounds like a cliche or incredibly corny, but it’s true and it’s justified.
My ma was inspiring.
She had a tough life and overcame many hardships. Not only did she overcome them, she learnt from them. Hearing the stories, showed me her strength and how powerful she was. I model my own strength of character and perseverance off of her. I was lucky enough that she passed down those qualities to me. I also saw her courage and strength everyday. She raised me on her own from Day One after leaving my abusive father.
She enjoyed life. When I was younger, we scrimped and saved every penny so we could go on holiday every year. We put making memories first. When we found out she was terminal, she made it her priority to make memories everyday. I’ve come to see that she was showing me what is really important in life- making the most of the time we’ve got, the relationships we have with our loved ones, happiness and health.
I feel honoured that she was my ma. There is so much that I have learnt from her and can still learn from her and take with me. Her love was inspiring. She was never a show off about who she loved and how much she loved them or any amazing things things they did, but no one doubted her love for them or that she was there for them. The bond you have with someone and them being secure in it is what matters, not what other’s think.
My ma in her role as a mother inspires me too. She loved me with her whole heart and cherished our relationship, which is something I’ve never questioned and never will question. We had the strongest relationship. She was more than my ma; she was my best friend, sister, auntie, counsellor, security guard, main cheerleader, partner in crime, teammate and soulmate. I was always good enough in her eyes and she always told me to never change because I was perfect (not that I ever believed it). I’m not sure how she created that bond between us, but it meant we trusted, supported, loved and cared for each other. I hope to figure it out so I can form and maintain tight bonds with others.
The new person that I am creating to face the world without her and post-cancer is modelled off and inspired by many different things. She is one of them. I hope she’d like and be proud of the new and improved Emma.
What was the last book you read that had a major influence on you?
As a huge bookworm, asking me questions like this gives me the same emotional response that I imagine a parent has when asked who is their favourite child. Every book I read has an impact on me so I will instead speak about the one that had the biggest influence.
The summer before my ma was first diagnosed with cancer I read ‘The Hunger Games’ series. The series follows Katniss Everdeen through life in a dystopian, authoritarian-totalitarian dictatorship, its tyrannical game system as a means of revenge and the eventual overthrowing of the government.
Reading the series, watching the films and the timing, taught me about strength and bravery. It provided me with characters and symbols that not only gave me hope, but instilled hope in me.
What is your favourite quote?
“The devil whispered in my ear, ‘You are not strong enough to withstand the storm.’ Today, I whispered in the devil’s ear, ‘I am the storm.’”- Unknown.
“Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.”- President Snow, The Hunger Games (film).
What is your favourite song to listen to when you feel sad?
Tomorrow Will Be Kinder by The Secret Sisters.
When my ma was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer, I told her to listen to this song. She did and it quickly became our ‘life song’ and the song title became our motto for life. It is from the soundtrack for the film, ‘The Hunger Games’. I read the books and saw the first film the summer before ma’s diagnosis. It’s a very slow song but that allows you to hear the beautiful and inspiring lyrics. For every lyric about giving up, there is one for keeping hope.
“Sorrow weighs my shoulders down
And trouble haunts my mind
But I know the present will not last
And tomorrow will be kinder.”
Even after my ma was told she was cancer free, we would tell each other the title and use it to inspire each other when life gave us knocks. We said it to each other when her cancer came back, through the surgery, through the chemo and when they told us she wasn’t going to get better. I told her ‘tomorrow will be kinder’ as she passed away and after she took her last breath, I told her that she’d got her tomorrow forever. We played the song at her funeral and included the song title on the order of service.
I now say the phrase to myself or family/ friends tell me ‘that phrase ma used to tell you’. It still gives me hope and I say it to people to try to give them hope too.
Tomorrow will be kinder.
Do you believe we can be kindred spirits even if we have never met and live far away from each other?
Definitely! Relationships and what makes one goes beyond the realm of distance and how much people see one another. It is about the connection, trust and love between people.
Get in touch with Emma here